Rasoolallah(صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) is doing humanitarian help—this is pre-islam—and even though he’s helping day after day after day, the problem isn’t going away. There are more and more people in need. And he goes into serious depression and he gets really lost, thinking, “what else is there? what am I missing?”
So he (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) secludes himself and goes away from society and spends a lot of time in a cave by himself just thinking. And part of what he’s thinking about is why human beings are so messed up. Why is injustice spreading? It’s part of what drove him to the cave.
Allah decides to give him the answer and it had to have been of a form that he couldn’t have done on his own, so remarkably the first words are ‘Read’, something he cannot do—showing us that look, the answer you’re seeking to a problem has to come from beyond you. You will not be able to solve it. So in “Iqra’ bismi rabbika alladhi khalaqa, khalaqal insaana min alaq”—”alaq” refers to a little piece of flesh that’s hanging off. It’s a digusting piece of flesh, something you wouldnt keep, somthing you’d toss. From that we’re reminded of the beginning of a human being and reminded that hey look at what people are made of—they have the tendency to be low, so this will happen.
However, the next line says “Iqra’ wa rabbukal akram”—He is above it all. There is the question of injustice that comes in our minds, but we’re talking about the Architect of the entire Universe, and we compare our intellect to His. Isn’t it possible that we may not see something as mercy and love and care but it still is?
The idea of Alhamdulillah requires not only gratitude and appreciation but also humility, knowing that we cannot understand everything.
The Prophet (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) warned that when the end of time comes, a believer will sleep as a believer, by the time he wakes up he’s not a believer anymore. And that’s happening now. It’s not “astaghfirullah, save us from when that time comes, hope we never see it..” No. It’s already here right now, it’s happening.
But in these times, to fight this fitnah, Rasoolallah (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) said you must recite which surah?: Surah al-Kahf.
In this surah, Prophet Musa alayhis salam sees things and doesn’t understand what’s going on—”why are u killing this child, why are u sinking this boat, etc.”
He learns the lesson that we don’t understand Allah’s plan. Would anyone say Prophet Musa alayhis salam’s mom putting her child in the river could have any logic? No one would say that. But it’s because Allah’s plan is way beyond us. So in terms of injustice and problems not being solved, there’s a plan there that we do not know. Just like when the Prophet (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) was depressed about things not getting better and he went to the cave, the solution involved reading, something he (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) could not even do. How could he (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) have imagined that this was in Allah’s plan? Subhan Allah.
And not that alone, upon this book was built the most educated civilization in recorded history. This command to read was given to a people where the bare literature was poetry and it’s wasn’t even written poetry, it was memorized. In this society, Allah gave the commandment of “Read”, and most of the people even other than Rasoolallah (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) were unread.
But the way math spread like it did in the muslim ummah was unlike any other. The modern university system today comes from islamic civilization. The phD system comes from the ‘ijaza system in Islam. So higher academics, research, reading are rooted in muslim civilization from a society where people could not even read.
This orally related book gave birth to entire libraries across continents. Every book of fiqh, tafsir, all of it. How many thousands of people, generation and generation, have written and read coming from that one source book of quran?
One written word, and it changed the world.
In times of difficulty, oppression, injustice then—what does one do? What can we learn from the revelation of Islam itself? Maybe a cave is an idea. The youth in the story of Kahf too betook themselves to a cave when they were facing oppression and injustice, and what happened? Something completely unthinkable. Who would have guessed a 300 year sleep?
Maybe in our difficult times we need to spend a little time away from everything else, just with Allah—not in a way that’s transactional: “I’ll do some extra worship if you make my duaa come true”, but rather in terms of reflecting on our own selves—and trying to spend some time just with Allah.
The Qur’an was revealed for all of mankind. When the Prophet (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) was facing confusion and struggle, the commandment was to read, but that applies to us all. Even the invocation for times of worry and grief related to us in ahadith translates as asking Allah to “…make the Qur’an the spring of my heart, and the light of my chest, the banisher of my sadness and the reliever of my distress.”
Nothing is beyond Allah, but Allah is beyond every problem, every cruelty, every worry and all distress. Perhaps the solution is simply remembering that the solution is beyond us and that our duaa and our strive to keep learning are the most powerful possessions we have.
And Wallahi, when you change, then the world changes. Until you don’t change, the world will not change. The sahaba were the ultimate change—they brought an amazing transformation within themselves by Allah’s book.
And because of the change inside of themselves, Allah gave victory in their hands. The victory of conquest was nothing. That was just nothing, that was insignificant.
This dunya was created for us. It’s been made for us. We just have to prove to Allah that we are just for Him. When we prove to Allah that we are for Him, then He will hand dunya over. It’s no big deal to him, its nothing to him. Subhan Allah.
-Nouman Ali Khan, ‘What is Victory?
(full post quoted, paraphrased, and/or drawn from Nouman Ali Khan’s tafsir of surah al-Alaq and series: Quran & the Journey to Faith)